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When Mom Wants to Sit In on a Son's Job Interview

How to deal with meddlesome helicopter parents

A group of people sitting at a desk in an office.

You schedule an interview with a recent college grad who's applied for a job, but a few days before your meeting, his mother calls to ask if she can be interviewed in his place.

Her son, she explains, has somewhere else he needs to be.

That's a real story from a hiring manager who responded to a recent OfficeTeam survey, which found that more than 1 in 3 senior managers said they are annoyed when parents are involved in their kids' search for work.

"Times have definitely changed from even 10 to 20 years ago," said Brandi Britton, district president for OfficeTeam, an administrative staffing firm based in Menlo Park, Calif. "Some parents may feel more concerned about their kids' well-being and want to become more involved in their lives given what's been happening in the economy and what's going on in the news. In many areas, the job market is still competitive and living costs are rising. More 18- to 34-year-olds are living at home with their parents, so it's not hard to see how the lives of children and parents can be quite intertwined."

The survey, conducted by an independent research firm, included responses from more than 600 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees in the United States and Canada. It was conducted in December 2015, and the results were released Aug. 16.

Among the findings: More than 1 in 3 senior managers (35 percent) said they're annoyed when helicopter parents are involved in their kids' search for work. Another one-third (34 percent) said that they prefer mom and dad stay out of the job hunt but would let it slide. Twenty-nine percent said this parental involvement is not a problem.

"Not all employers will automatically take a candidate out of contention if his or her parents become too involved in the job search, but chances are that most hiring managers would be put off by this type of behavior," Britton said.

Strange Behavior from Mom and Dad

Managers were asked to recount the strangest behavior they've heard of or seen from parents of job seekers. Here are some of their responses:

  • "The candidate opened his laptop and had his mother Skype in for the interview."
  • "A woman brought a cake to try to convince us to hire her daughter."
  •  "A father asked us to pay his son a higher salary."
  • "One mom knocked on the office door during an interview and asked if she could sit in."
  • "Parents have arrived with their child's resume and tried to convince us to hire him or her."
  • "A job seeker was texting his parent the questions I was asking during the interview and waiting for a response."
  • "Once a father called us pretending he was from the candidate's previous company and offered praise for his son."
  • "Parents have followed up to ask how their child's interview went."
  • "A father started filling out a job application on behalf of his kid."
  • "I had one mother call and set up an interview for her son."
  • "Moms and dads have called to ask why their child didn't get hired."

"Managers tell me every day about parents accompanying their children to job interviews and even, once in a while, to the first day of work," said Bruce Tulgan, founder of management training firm RainmakerThinking, a management research, training and consulting firm in New Haven, Conn. "The big surprise comes when managers hear directly from parents, suggesting their children should be working fewer hours, getting different assignments, winning promotions and receiving pay increases."

Marilyn Mitchell, senior research director at Palm Spring, Calif.-based Insightlink Communications, which consults with companies on several issues, including interviewing techniques, said several factors contribute to "hovering" behavior. 

"Small families cause parents to concentrate resources and attention on one or two kids, so it's easier to be over-involved than with the larger families of generations past," she said. "Parents also perceive the world in general, and the working world in particular, as more competitive for their children than in the past. This makes relatively routine events, such as job interviews, feel like a high-stakes game that parents feel their kids can't afford to lose." 

Parents should avoid direct contact with potential employers, Britton said.

"They should not participate in interviews or call, e-mail or visit companies on behalf of their children. Even one misstep could take a candidate out of contention, especially in a competitive job market. Job seekers need to show potential employers that they're assertive and independent, and this can be difficult to do if parents are dominating their job hunts."

Handling the Copter Parent

So how does one politely deal with a meddlesome parent?

If a parent is becoming overly involved in a child's job search, an employer might politely tell him or her that they need to deal with applicants directly, Britton said.

If a mom or dad asks to participate in interviews, hiring managers might say that it's most productive to have one-on-one discussions with job candidates to learn more about their skills, experience and work style.

In his seminars, Tulgan tells managers that the way to deal with the overparenting problem is to take a strong hand as a manager.

"Your Millennial employees need to know that you know who they are and care about their success. Make it a priority to spend time with them. Break things down for them like a teacher. Provide regular, gentle course corrections. Be honest with them so you can help them improve. Keep close track of their successes no matter how small.

"When I describe this approach at seminars, at least one manager will remark, 'This sounds a lot like parenting. Are you saying that we should manage these young upstarts as if we are their parents?' I'm afraid the answer I've come to is yes."

Sometimes moms and dads intervene in their children's job searches even though their children haven't asked them to do so. In that case, Britton said, it may be helpful to make candidates aware of their parents' inappropriate behavior.

Any parental involvement, she said, should be done at home and behind the scenes, such as reviewing resumes, conducting mock interviews, offering networking contacts or weighing in on job offers.  

Said Mitchell: "If you find yourself meddling in your kid's job hunt, stop, remind yourself that your child is a grown-up and remember that your child's life is not going to be determined by the outcome of a single interview. Get a life and let your kid have a life, too."


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